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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword(And Just As Old, Too).



I’ve always had an interest in the pen. In junior high school, I started studying calligraphy and my best Christmas present one year was a beginners set of calligraphy pens. Over the next few years, I spent my allowance buying dozens of different pen nibs (the part that does the actual writing in calligraphy), special calligraphy paper and inks.

As I was writing my debut release, Widow’s Peak, someone told me that the word “pen” was anachronistic to the middle ages. That made me wonder about the history of pens as writing implements.

As to the word “pen” itself, it seems to come from penna, the latin for feather, or pinna the Olde English form of the word. It seems use of the word was first recorded around 1300.

A pen is defined as a writing implement with a chamber that holds ink. Historically, the main body of the pen was made from dried material carved in various ways to make a chamber that would hold liquid ink. Most held a very small quantity of ink, in many cases, no more than enough to write a few words.


Historically, pens seem to fall into three main categories, quill pens, reed pens, and dip pens. Quill, or feather pens seem to be the first recorded use of a pen. Texts mention use of bird feathers for writing on the Indian subcontinent in about 5000 BC. They were the pen of choice in Western culture until the end of the 19th century.


Reed pens were carved from dried river reeds or bamboo. Their first recorded use is in Egyptian Texts at around 3000 BC. They are still used today in some parts of Pakistan to teach handwriting in schools.


Dip pens have a metal nib or tip rather than a carved tip like reeds and quills. A bronze nib was found in the ruins of Pompeii and it is suspected that the Romans may have used them as well. Other types of pens did exist historically, but were often awkward to use and produced less than ideal products.


The earliest known fountain pen dates back to 10th century when a caliph demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothing. A reservoir pen was devised that served the caliph’s needs. In 1827, a student studying in Paris, reinvented the fountain pen and the French government immediately patented the new device. By the 1850’s, several other fountain pen patents had been filed and the first mass produced pens began to appear. However, the quill pen was still the pen of choice until nearly 1880.


The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued in 1888. In 1938, the Biro brothers designed a pen with a free rolling ball tip that distributed ink evenly and gave a uniform writing line with minimal skipping and blotching. World War II pilots popularized the use of the ballpoint pen and it remained the pen of choice well into the seventies.


Today, we have all kinds of pens. Fountain pens, ballpoint pens, felt-tip pens, roller-ball pens, gel pens. From the inexpensive stick pen to outrageously priced fountain pens. Though computers, pda’s and smartphones have changed the way we write in the last twenty years, I’m sure that we will always be able to find a pen to jot down that phone number or sign that contract.

1 comment:

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